Tag Archives: Share a Book

Mental Health Awareness Week – Surviving or Thriving?

mhaw17-main-banner_0Read, learn and connect with us during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week –

Libraries’ positive contribution to the mental well-being of the population is well documented – see the Arts Council’s publication on ‘The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries.’ 

I say population and not just customers or residents as it has been said that living near a library and, indeed, just walking past a library has a positive effect on one’s emotional and mental well-being.

Of course we in libraries are keen to invite people to come through the doors and experience the well-being benefits first hand. The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Surviving or Thriving’ which encourages us to look at our physical and mental well-being.


Some of our offers are more obviously health focused, our health information displays encourage us to feed our brains with the right food and suggest ways to be more active, as well as giving information on managing and living well with chronic conditions.  Poor physical health can be a drain on our mental and emotional strength and poor mental health can lead to inactivity, poor diet and so the cycle continues.

One way to break cycles of unhelpful thoughts and behaviours is cognitive behavioural therapy and Westminster has a free psychological therapy service, Westminster Talking Therapies.

In order to help people decide whether this service is for them or for support while waiting for a referral, or during, or after therapy, the libraries’ Reading Well Books on Prescription collections are recommended by GPs and health promotion specialists. A new collection put together to support those living with chronic conditions will be launched in July this year.

The Reading Well Books on Prescription initiative is part of our Bibliotherapy offer. Our libraries host read aloud groups in partnership with The Reader Organisation. These facilitator led ‘Share a book’ groups meet every week and give members the opportunity to join in reading aloud from good literature and discuss what has been read over a cup of tea or coffee or just sit back, listen and enjoy the company.

lavenderIt is encouraging to look at how we in libraries contribute to what is called ‘the wider determinants of health’  All the things in our lives that support us, family, work, employment, housing, finances, education, lifelong learning, English classes, coffee mornings, knitting groups, activities for children and teenagers, employment advice, business information points for entrepreneurs old and young, all these available in libraries.

Libraries have always been inspirational and aspirational encouraging us to ask for more learning and knowledge and skills to create meaningful lives for ourselves and our families.

There are also some very good enjoyable fiction books available free to borrow hard copy or online! See our new book displays or log on to the 24/7 library. Did you know that reading for as little as six minutes can improve mental well-being?

See what you can do this Mental Health Awareness week to look after your own mental well-being, eat well, sleep well, go for a walk in one of our gorgeous parks and yes, visit your local library.

Kate Gielgud

Health Information Co-ordinator






We can help

Did you know that using a public library is good for your mental health?

Books on Prescription at Victoria LibraryRecent research done for Arts Council England found that

“Library usage is associated with higher life satisfaction, higher happiness and a higher sense of purpose in life… These results suggest that libraries generally have an important role in library users’ quality of life and wellbeing.”

– The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries, 2015

Today is World Mental Health Day so we’re taking the opportunity to talk about some of the support that Westminster Libraries can offer to maintain and improve your and your family’s mental health.

If you visit your local library today, you are likely to see a display entitledBooks on Prescription – a selection of self-help books put together by health professionals that give guidance on managing and, in some cases, recovering from mild to moderate mental wellbeing issues. These books are available for a longer-than-usual loan period, and figures released today suggest that it’s a positive and useful resource (Book-based therapy scheme is a success) – so successful in fact that Korean TV visited Victoria Library this week to talk to the Reading Agency and our very own librarian Nick about taking Books on Prescription to Korea!

You can browse the selection for yourself on the library catalogue:

Browse the 'Books on Prescription' selection

Browse the ‘Books on Prescription’ selection

From the same page you can also browse a great selection of Mood Boosting Books – uplifting titles including novels, poetry and non-fiction. The books are recommended by readers and reading groups around the country.

Browse the selection of Mood Boosting Books

Browse the selection of Mood Boosting Books

You are probably aware of the wide range of health-related events that are held regularly in Westminster Libraries – from free blood pressure checks to Q & A sessions about different conditions, from advice on healthy eating to fun dental health sessions for children. But as the report at the top of the post indicates, it’s not just attending health-related events that can have an impact on your mental health. Attending any library events (and we have a LOT!) can improve feelings of wellbeing. In fact, there is also evidence that improved literacy is linked to good health, so the Health Information Project is working closely with children’s Chatterbooks reading groups and other groups within libraries to support reading as a whole.

Have you heard about the Shared Reading Groups? We have a wide range of reading groups that you can join, from the traditional ‘read a book a month and discuss it’ style to groups focusing on comics or crime fiction. Shared reading groups have a slightly different style – there’s no set book, you don’t need to read it before you attend – just come along and listen to others read aloud, discuss (if you want) and enjoy the books (poetry, plays, novels), the company and the free tea and coffee!

We can help. Libraries are a great source of information, enjoyment, social interaction or space just to read and learn. Come in and spend some time, join in with an event or group, find a great book to read for escape or to find support with the stresses of life. These links may also help:


Bibliotherapy +

This is Josefine, anxiously awaiting news as to whether she has been accepted as a pet therapy dog to visit the Dementia Centre at 42 Westbourne Park Road.

Josephine April 13I am glad to report that she has been successful after a gruelling interview where she had to ‘shake hands’ and ‘lie down’ over and over again.  She also had to resist grabbing at a custard cream held just out of her reach in the hand of a 96 year old resident (this last test actually happened on her second visit to the Penfold Hub and she passed with flying colours and only a little bit of understandable drooling)

She has performed very well on both her visits to the Penfold Hub. The very elderly residents, many with dementia, lit up when she and companion Frankie (Franz Josef, a very shy Yorkshire terrier) made the rounds of the residents lounge. When the dogs came into the room (on leads of course) the residents mostly seemed asleep but, when they saw the animals,  all reacted and became animated and vocal, and reached out to pet the little dogs. It was really heartening and the positive, delighted, response was undeniable.

You may wonder what the connection could possibly be to libraries?  The Health Information Project runs a ‘Share a Book’ session for younger residents (between 60 and 80), and over 50s visitors to the Hub activities once a month, and is starting another monthly bibliotherapy group at the Dementia Centre on the 5 June. For those residents who are unable to join in the bibliotherapy sessions Josefine and Frankie will visit regularly – it looks as though their visits are going to be popular. These visits will of course be on a volunteer basis and not in working hours!

If you would like to find out more about dementia, please contact the organisations linked above, or come to a special Dementia Information and Advice evening for Dementia Awareness Week (19-25 May) at Paddington Library, tomorrow 22 May at 6.00pm.


Why Libraries are Good for your Health, Pt II

Not many people realise that libraries (and their staff) are mobile… I am not , in this instance, talking about our wonderful Home Library Service (more of that another time)  but the fact that a lot of librarians, library assistants and even the Health Information Coordinator will leave libraries and go out and about in the community so that the maximum number of people can hear about our services and enjoy them. For example:

The great under fives sessions held regularly in our children’s libraries are taken out to local nurseries, children’s centres and schools – singing and nursery rhymes and sharing a good book – all brought to you.  We have already said how book sharing can improve your child’s health!

St George's Day activity at Dart Street street partyThe craft sessions that are offered as part of children’s events in libraries get carried out to community celebrations – such was the case at the recent Queen’s Park St Georges Day celebrations on 23 April.  Lucy, the librarian at Queen’s Park Library took craft materials down to Dart Street where a street party, organised by Paddington Development Trust,  local community champions, Beethoven Centre and Beethoven Health Hub was in full swing.

Our Bengali Outreach Worker at Dart Street street partyThe Queen’s Park Library Bibliotherapy Group made their way down to the party and spotted Mahbuba Khan, the Bengali Outreach worker promoting her English reading, writing and speaking groups. The Bengali Outreach Project and the libraries’ Health Project  (the health project runs the bibliotherapy groups) are planning several health events in partnership  in May and June, including a Tai Chi session and a pre-Ramadan health checklist event.

A 100th Birthday Cake!The Health Project also does taster Share a Book groups in sheltered housing, such as the enjoyable group with ladies from Westbourne Open Age Hub in Raine House sheltered housing last week.

These are just a few of the ways that libraries come out  to you for the good of  your health and your community!


Sunday Stories

Morning coffeeWe don’t have any health events on Sundays as yet, so I can devote time to one of the best parts of my job which is choosing material for the Share a Book Groups. This has to be done on a Sunday morning , in bed , with a cafetiere and pile of books (mostly collections of short stories)  and dogs on hand to give their opinions should I need to try reading extracts aloud.

There are, at present, six Share a Book groups in Westminster and I run four of them. Share a Book groups are book groups where the material is read aloud.  When a group first starts it is usual for the facilitator to bring along a short story and a poem.  Groups run between 1 and two hours.  When a group has been running for a while the group often choose a book. Paddington Share a Book group has just started Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham.  Last week we also read ‘One Art’, a poem by Elisabeth Bishop.

Queen's Park Library Share a Book group

The facilitator always starts the story  and then pauses to make space for any observations or comments from the group before inviting someone to continue reading the next section aloud. We try to steer clear of discussions about the author or the structure of the piece, or any kind of self-conscious literary criticism – for these groups, the important thing is the story and the characters and how it all unfolds. Some members really enjoy reading aloud and others prefer to sit and listen and enjoy their tea (we have tea and coffee) and only occasionally will they want to read.

Some of the short stories we have read recently at Church Street, Queen’s Park and the newly opened group in partnership with Open Age (situated at Amberley Clubroom) include: A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin, A Bed among the Lentils by Alan Bennett, The Chain by Tobias Wolff, Faith and Hope go Shopping by Joanne Harris, An Anna around the Neck by Chekov and The Supreme Artist by Daphne Du Maurier.

Finding a story of the right length and one that stimulates the group is always a challenge. You never know how people will react – sometimes a story I have enjoyed when reading it silently to myself sounds completely different, or falls flat when read aloud – other stories seem quite meek and mild on the page but spring to life and immediately provoke comment, laughter, a treasured memory, and, on occasion, outrage, sneers or even tears.

Another challenge is choosing a poem to complement the text; there is usually a poem even when the group is reading a book. There is no pressure for the members of the group to attend every week but the usual core of regulars let me know when something disrupts their routine and they can’t attend.

Josefine on Shirley's kneeSome group members really miss the group when they can’t attend; one member had a knee replacement and was stuck at home for a while, I and my little Jack Russell took the photocopied sheets round to her (Josefine is on Shirley’s good knee – she is thinking of training to be a therapy dog now!).